There was a very excited buzz in The Parabola last night – ten Moogs on stage, of varying sizes and instinctively you knew, of different temperaments, from the tiny Roland SH09 to the wedge shaped Korg MS20 and the archetypal Moog, the mini Moog ( illustrated). Their oscillators so sensitive that the mere opening of a door which causes the temperature to drop a millionth of a degree is enough to make them stop working. The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, led by the composer Will Gregory (half of Goldfrapp) gave us two hours of great fun but also poignancy. They warmed us up with Handel’s Bourrée, just enough to get our ears attuned. Then Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.3 delivered at high speed like a giant fairground organ. But they hadn’t really got going yet.
Will explained you can sequence the Moogs – hands appeared to be lifted off the keyboards, just a few knobs were twiddled and we had a premiere Carry on Noise Box, which ended up as techno with layers of white noise. By this time a small group in the gallery were dancing and the rest of us smiling with glee. Then what else but some Burt Bacharach to ease us to the interval? We’d had fun, we’d experienced wails, howls and pulsating rhythms. It all felt, well, very human. These were not machines being controlled by musicians, the Moogs had won us over with the breadth of emotions they displayed from sheer joy and bounce to deep, gut tingling throbs.
It was worth coming back for The Service of Tim Henman , through-composed by Will to a film about the tennis player. But nothing could have prepared me for this extraordinary work – a slow motion film which covered just a few seconds of a game but shown in very very slow motion. It enabled us to slip inside the soul of Tim Henman through his steady gaze and cool eyes, to experience the loneliness of being on court, of the aggression you have to feel to win, and the desolation at a poor shot. The score emphasised the pounding energy of tennis, the brutal nature of combat where you have no time to reflect on a victory but must plan the next move, and the next until you win. Or lose. I do not know how the game ended, the camera in Henman’s face as he left the court seemed impertinent, we’d experienced so much with him. And who would have thought that Moogs could do that?
An afternoon of gothic horror and glockenspiels at The Forge Camden from a powerhouse trio embellished with a caramel-toned saxophonist. That would be my Twitter review.
If John Law’s recent Boink! project felt like a work in progress, this New Congregation is fully formed and the new album These Skies In Which We Rust eagerly awaited. For those of us who struggle with change in favourite bands, the loss of the mercurial Asaf Sirkis is more than compensated by the quietly brooding figure of Laurie Lowe on percussion. And as always, there is the poised, focussed bass of Yuri Goloubev whose arco playing stops your heart.
We heard the trio in the first set with the bonus of Josh Arcoleo in the second (who made light work of a tricky time signature in Lucky 13), and together they introduced us to eleven compositions, many of whom will become old favourites for their catchiness (Set Theory, 789 ) or because they haul you up short – the jagged, stabbing, tumbling horror of Incarnadine Day, the wry humour of To do Today: to Die.
In lesser hands, the electromagnetic pulses from outer space, the battery of keyboards, the fiddling with iPad, an Ibo drum, the snatches of vocals, the bits of Brahms, the changes in mood and emotion through the concert would feel unsettling or gimmicky. But not here, they are satisfying, fluent, glimpses of what promises to be a very good album indeed. An extremely enjoyable afternoon.
If you would like to support this project, John Law’s New Congregation These Skies in Which We Rust, (and I recommend that you do)you can do so here.
Just a few weeks ago at Cheltenham Jazz Festival I held my breath as NickMulvey stood at the edge of stage, hesitating for what seemed like ages, gazing out at the packed Arena, before giving us a heartfelt performance, one of the highlights of my festival. Was he remembering his last visit to Cheltenham, his final performance with Portico Quartet when we gasped, convulsed in sadness, as we learned he was leaving the band? Or was it simply that the beautiful personal lyrics he was about to sing required stillness?
In this stunning debut album, First Mind, the gentle hang player of Portico has emerged out of his chrysalis, a fully fledged troubadour with a pleasing, light, unforced voice and a rich song book. Add to this his breathtaking guitar and layers of delicate instrumentation with synths and mellotrons and you have perfection. There is nothing showy here, the beauty of each composition requiring you to reflect on it, like a poem. So many influences crowd in, but never overwhelming each composition – take the subtle Beach Boy /Brian Wilson/God Only Knows feel to the title track First Mind. And English folk song in Ailsa Craig, with shades of Nick Drake. A chill goes through me when I hear the line in Venus:
To the calling of the morning, yes, the falling lovers leap
A nine-eleven reference? A searing image. An outstanding track with its Botticelli image, sadness and heartbeat.
This album touches me deeply with its maturity, dreaminess and gentleness. See Nick in performance if you can, but savour the album quietly on your own too, and discover its depth.
You may well be captivated by a few words on the sleeve notes of the album Imaginarium by Kevin Seddiki and Bijan Chemirani:
“Kevin Seddiki and Bijan Chemirani may not share the same parents, but they belong to the same family of roaming musicians, with no fixed abode, who have cast off those things that tie us down to one place. Always looking to connect with others, they know that when the time comes to leave one another, they will always meet up again.”
You will instantly connect with this beautiful album by guitarist Kevin Seddiki and percussionist Bijan Chemirani. These are troubadours with pedigree. Seddiki has played with Al di Meola, bandoneonist Dinu Saluzzi and won the prestigious European Guitar Award in Dresden in 2009. Chemirani comes from a family of outstanding percussionists and singers from Iran (who settled in France in the 1960s). They have worked together since 2007, starting with a project called Oneira (a dream) in which each artist combined tradition with their own backgrounds and travels.
So perhaps it was inevitable that this new project would build on that experience – the title Imaginarium gives you a clue – here are exotic places, sunlit coasts, romantic train journeys, planets, tragic operas. You are free to roam in your mind, transported by the most delicate sounds and rhythms that are half familiar if you have ever travelled in North Africa, the Middle East or West Africa. Here are stringed and percussion instruments with wonderful names like zarb, udu, daff and saz and equally gorgeously heady sounds and trance-like rhythms which rise, fall and move with the sinuous grace of a dancer. Their shared background in classical music and open minded embrace of other traditions, gently mixed with some subtle electronics, makes for a rich combination – like a persian rug or medieval tapestry. They deserve to be better known in the UK for their supreme artistry on interesting instruments, their glorious melodies and the sheer joy they exhibit in their performance – it is captivating and absorbing.
This is a deeply satisfying, dazzling and quite magical experience, and not just for dreaming. You will want to go travelling…
Kevin Seddiki, classical, folk and 12 string guitars, zarb and percussion
Bijan Chemirani, zarb, udu, daff, saz and other percussion
Is it unorthodox to start a review with an appreciation of the recording quality? Yet without the technical skills of Matt Robertson and the sheer genius of the mixing by August Wanngren, we’d not have this album. Without those engineers, the energy, the passion and the sheer life-grabbing urgency that always characterises live performances by Phronesis, only a few hundred people would have experienced this extraordinary trio live, in the round, at The Cockpit in November 2013.
So we have the best of both worlds in this wonderful album – Life to Everything – the sheer joy and expansiveness of live performance fused with recording-studio sound. Of course, if you were not there you would not know that Anton often plays with cutlery, that Ivo sits so quietly at the piano, you think he is asleep, and that Jasper moves with his bass like a dancing partner. And the result of these things is that unmistakable Phronesis sound! As the audience we responded with whistles, whoops and gasps and that is what you will do at home, you will feel you are there. The bustle, the clatter, the dancing-down-the-street feel of Anton’s compositions such as Herne Hill is balanced by the ethereal, symphonic beauty of those of Ivo where he takes us into space and deserts, and explores the unspoken strength of deep friendship in Phraternal, the life-changing experience (for him and us) that is called Phronesis. And Jasper’s strong, instantly hummable tunes provide the sinew that runs through it, his bass playing is so delicate and responsive it drives the Phronesis machine as if it were a high-powered car – which it is.
Phronesis’ fifth album, Life to Everything is quite simply one of the best albums you will hear this year! And their best!